Friday, October 21, 2022

When Holidays and Birthdays are Difficult

As the holiday season approaches, we decorate, we plan, we remember. We have expectations that these special times will be filled with love, laughter, joy and excitement. But unfortunately, holidays are often bittersweet or painful for some, because we’ve lost loved ones, or because money is tight, or because distance separates us from those we cherish, or a terminal illness hovers, or a plethora of other reasons.

This week, my mind has been on one of those other reasons, so I am summoning the courage to write for anyone else who finds themselves in similar circumstances. If you are one whose holidays and birthdays are sometimes difficult, please know you are not alone.

Last week, in a group setting, one of my friends brought up the topic of what she called “the unmentionables” and that phrase fits the relationship I have with my younger son.

Yesterday was his birthday, and while I longed to post happy birthday wishes to him on social media so everyone could celebrate him with me, I didn’t.


Because he’s in jail. Again.

He could be considered an unmentionable child, because when he does become the topic of conversation, I always feel the need to explain or clarify or even … hold my head in shame, embarrassment, failure.

I have two children – two sons. I love them both with every fiber of my being.

Referring to my younger son, some have asked how I can love someone who causes so much pain and destruction.

My sons are polar opposites in most ways and most of their lives have been a battle, either with each other, or between all three of us.

Older son and I have both wrestled with all the thoughts that plague us, wondering how we “went wrong” in our roles as mom or brother, what we could/should/would have done differently. I’ve accepted 100% of the blame for too many years – blame from myself, from extended family, from friends, from younger son himself, who, as of yet, accepts no responsibility for his own wrongdoings.

One day recently, I finally accepted the fact that I am NOT 100% to blame. None of us are. Some of us played a role in making my son who he is today, but ultimately, his mental illness, his drug and alcohol abuse, and his own choices made as an adult play a role, too.

Holidays are difficult for us as a family. Too many have resulted in extreme episodes that left many of us frustrated, hurt, angry; he’s been homeless or in jail on many others. Holidays and birthdays are trigger points for him, so whenever one rolls around, we’ve come to expect meltdowns, anger, destruction.

How do you wish a sincere “happy birthday” to anyone when they’re sitting in a jail cell, angry at you, angry at the world? You don’t. You can’t. But the Lord gave me a Bible verse night before last to send my son with a note that said, “you are not forgotten today, or any day.” He responded with a thank you and an I love you, so I was able to say I love you, too, without it blowing up in my face. For the day.

Was it the best birthday? No. Was it the worst? Far from it, so we’ll call it good. Today, that’s enough.

Last night as I was going through the mail, I found a “happy anniversary” card from Prison Fellowship. We’ve supported their ministry for years, so the card was thanking us for “supporting restoration.” The timing was not lost on me – to receive the card on my son’s birthday, to open it after our text exchange. The note on the back of the card said, “Remember those in prison.” Some of us can’t forget.

Jesus said,

“I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then the good people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you alone and away from home and invite you into our house? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’

“Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40 NCV)

This holiday season, remember the homeless, remember those in poverty, remember those in prison.

* I learned about Prison Fellowship years ago after reading founder Chuck Colson's memoir, Born Again.

One of their programs is the Angel Tree. Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™ equips churches to strengthen relationships between incarcerated parents and their children and support the families of prisoners year-round.

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